July 2015

A New Phase begins: Land + Lake + Life

Author: PAUL DEVERE | Photographer: Mark Staff Photography

It is a warm June morning. Two gentlemen enter The Tackle Box asking for information. They both wear baseball caps, Clemson and John Deere. Both are in shorts and T-shirts with no logos, and well-worn deck shoes. The shoes could be L.L. Bean, Frye or Payless knock-offs. Tough to tell with all the scuff marks.

Name brands don’t seem to matter at Hampton Lake. From the overheard conversation, the gentlemen are simply interested in tiger bass. Not tee times. Fish. That’s somewhat “new” to Southern Beaufort County’s gated communities

The Tackle Box is combination live bait-gift store-food-sunscreen kind of place. It’s Hampton Lake’s version of Starbucks—excellent specialty coffee available—but you can rent boats there, which beats Starbucks hands down. The store is part of the Lakeside Village complex at Hampton Lake, a 900-acre private, residential lake community with a Bluffton address.

The heart of the community is a 165-acre freshwater lake with 15 miles of shoreline. Thanks to a greatly improving real estate market and the determination of the Reed Group, the community’s developer, the lake will soon grow to almost 190 acres, and 135 homesites will be added. They call it “Phase 3.”

An aerial view of Lakeside Village.

When Hampton Lake opened its doors to buyers in 2005, it signaled a change for Southern Beaufort County’s gated communities. Initially it was going to be another private golf community with a Pete Dye course. It was being developed by John Reed, a veteran of high-end, award-winning golf communities in greater Bluffton: Colleton River, Belfair, Berkeley Hall and Hampton Hall.

But times and the real estate market were changing. Prime golf properties weren’t moving like they did in the 1980s and 1990s. So Reed hired two research firms, owned by women, that brought him up to speed. “We listened to women and the market. They told us ‘golf isn’t what we want.’ That’s when we learned the Rule of 92. That is, women make 92 percent of home buying decisions,” Reed said.

What consultants told him was the exact opposite of what he had been doing for 30 plus years. “Instead of formal, the market wanted informal. Instead of being exclusive, they wanted inclusive. They wanted informal gathering places. They wanted a more neighborly place,” Reed explained.

That “new market” of buyers was the first wave of Baby Boomers, those “kids” born between 1946 and 1964. “The Eisenhower generation wanted golf and country clubs. We found out the Baby Boomers didn’t want Daddy’s club. They rebelled,” Reed said. Think Mad Men versus Woodstock.

Based on the market research and consultants, Reed was faced with what might be considered a nightmare for a developer. He was about to commit to another golf course they said would fail. “I’m a dreamer,” Reed said. “What are the best times in life? When you’re at the ocean, the river, the lake. Water,” he recalled. Then he talked to the planner. Referring to the golf course layout, he asked, “What if I just dug it up?”

The result was this strange (for Southern Beaufort County) magical place: Hampton Lake. Kids’ (as in grandkids mostly) play area on the lake. Swimming pools for adults. Tennis courts. Walking trails. Dog park. Large fitness center and spa. Lakeside restaurant and bar. “It was named Best Community and Club in America in 2009 by the National Association of Home Builders. They only give the award to one development,” Reed said. “They gave it to us. It was our first lake community.” It was an exciting time for the Reed Group.

Then the real estate market tanked. Hampton Lake was a success, but property values plummeted. Eventually, Hampton Lake’s development entity was forced to seek Chapter 11 reorganization to protect the community and its members.

John Reed surveys the next phase of Hampton Lake.

“In my forty years of doing business here, we’ve done a lot. But the last seven or eight years were the worst real estate crash I’ve ever experienced. We worked with families that bought. They [property owners] believed what you said. We were hurt and they got hurt. They worked with us and we worked with them. It brought us closer together as a community,” Reed said.

The most important person helping Reed through those troubled times was really his “ace in the pocket.” Pratt Reed, John Reed’s son, cut his teeth on real estate sales and development. At age 13, while John was busy talking to Jack Nicklaus about Colleton River’s new golf course, Pratt was washing cars for the Colleton River sales force. “When I rode in the car with my dad, my job was to sit in the back seat and be very, very quiet,” Pratt said.

He was with his dad as they hammered out the next steps for Hampton Lake. It was painful but he believed in Hampton Lake—and his dad. After five years on the sales and marketing team, and several years on the sales force of other high-end properties, he is now president of the Reed Group and Hampton Lake. He has a perspective of the real estate market and buyers that fresh eyes and minds can bring.

“Our market is pretty traditional for the Hilton Head area—Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania. But we do get people coming from Hilton Head wanting a change. And we get second generation vacationers,” Pratt said. “They fell in love with the area as kids.”

Pratt also had an ace in his pocket—longtime friend Erik Olson. When times were rough during turing the transition, Olson helped his buddy Pratt with engineering situations at Hampton Lake. A Clemson engineering graduate, Olson had been working with Pratt at Hampton Lake off and on for a few years. Then, in 2013, Olson joined the Reed Group as Pratt’s partner and vice president of the company and Hampton Lake.

“I’m whatever we need that day. I’m either the architect or the janitor. Joke is I’m only allowed as much of an opinion on a product as Pratt sees fit. The flip side is he only gets to make decisions on things that I like and allow to reach his desk. Pratt and I have been close friends for 10 years,” Olson said.

When he came on board Olson said, “We started doing things differently. You work with guys you trust. We all see it as more than a job for us. It’s not just work and life; now it’s all just our life, from day to day. It’s 110 percent. People pick up on that. Once people start believing, they’re with you.”

The way the Hampton Lake community is structured is that there is no structure. “You can’t make people come to activities,” Pratt said. “They have to want to come.”

“It used to be that the most important person we hired was the director of golf. Now it’s the ‘director of fun,’” John added.

Pratt Reed, Erik Olson and even “baby boomer” John Reed are not only involved in “fun” for property owners, they understand that one of the major attractions of Hampton Lake is both sustainability and the environmental impact a soon-to-be 190-acre lake has on the surrounding community. Olson said, “This would be an ambassador for the May River watershed; we have direct impact on the headwater of the river. This [lake] is a filtration system. It has a direct, extremely positive impact on the river’s shellfish population.” Hampton Lake is in the Stoney Creek drainage basin. These basins collectively are the May River Watershed. So the lake filters the Stoney Creek basin, which has a huge impact on the water quality.

John, always learning, said, “Everything we do must be environmentally and economically sustainable.” From exclusive golf communities to inclusive lake communities, he has learned a thing or two about the new buyers.

They want beauty, nature, healthful living and fun. “And we always include ‘sustainability’ in everything we’re doing,” he added.

Pratt Reed and Erik Olson understand these “boomer” buyers. “We’ve been able to see how our buyers with families evolved. We can see what’s needed, not just for the community, but what people want for their life—what’s important to them: safety, security, outdoors, and gathering places,” Pratt said.

“We’re seeing the evolution of the American family,” Olson said.

So bring on the bass and the grandkids. Wear your Gamecocks hat. And for heaven’s sake, don’t tuck in your shirt. 

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